Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Voyage of the Damned

Three crew members were injured and 41 cars damaged during strong winds on a ferry crossing from Weymouth to Jersey. The Condor Vitesse sailing had departed Weymouth at about 13:00 BST on Sunday afternoon. One passenger described the sailing as "the voyage from hell".

Captain Fran Collins, from Condor Ferries, said wave heights had stayed within safe limits throughout the journey. However, she said unexpectedly high waves around the Casquets Lighthouse caused problems despite the boat slowing down. (BBC News)

The usual problem for Condor is complaints about cancelations because of high winds. I hesitate to say that on this occasion they threw caution to the winds, but there certainly needs to be a review of what has happened.

Are sea conditions usually bad near the Casquets when there are high winds in the English Channel, and which is the closest measuring station? If the winds and waves increased once the ship was more than half way across, what was it to do?

I’ve been on the old Solidor on a trip to St Malo through force 8 to 9 winds, and that boat tended to sail no matter what the conditions. The captain had to go in a slow zig zag as whenever the winds caught the boat sideways, it tipped alarmingly over. Plates fell and were smashed, and the whole vessel heaved over as if it was going to overturn. The entire voyage took around 4 to 5 hours, and everyone was exhausted, but the cars seemed to have been undamaged.

Here it seems to have been a sudden jump in the ship from a wave which caused them to also jump away from where they were parked, and crash into each other, which is something we did not experience.

There will be a lot of pressure against sailing in strong winds, but no one really knew how these winds were developing. At times, Jersey’s forecast was for much stronger winds from the fading but still strong remains of Hurricane Bertha, and the weather forecasters could not say exactly what would happen until the last minute. Those are exceptional circumstances, and normally a prediction of high waves and strong winds across the Channel can be given in advance, and is fairly accurate.

It may well be that initial conditions were fine, and then deteriorated rapidly around the Casquets. Where does one go then? Back across the Channel to England, or onwards to Jersey? Given that the seas would probably get progressively calmer, going on was probably the best choice, albeit the lesser of two evils.

Kipling’s description of the sea as enticing, but dangerous, the old grey Widow maker, is still something we would do well to remember:

Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters.
You steal away to the lapping waters,
And look at your ship in her winter-quarters.

You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables,
The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables
To pitch her sides and go over her cables.

Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow,
And the sound of your oar-blades, falling hollow,
Is all we have left through the months to follow.

Ah, what is Woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

No comments: